The last Friday of every month, in a small independent theater, a screening of a ten-year-old film is shown. Once a month, twelve times a year, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is shown in a dusty cinema with bad popcorn and stale beer. In the lobby you see a “Viewer’s Guide to The Room,” outlining the bizarre traditions surrounding the movie, such as plastic spoon throwing, various chants, and never-ending heckling. The film attracts a small, boisterous crowd at the 11 o’clock showtime, often drunk. What attracts these people, and these traditions? Is The Room so profound that it warrants so many screenings? Of course not; it’s terrible. Filled with narrative and technical flaws, The Room is objectively one of the worst movies of all time. Yet you don’t see Citizen Kane or Rear Window being screened monthly. What makes The Room different?
In Roger Ebert’s “little rule book” for film critics, the first two rules are as follows: “Advise the readers well… we must tell the readers what we ourselves love or hate… Provide a sense of the experience. No matter what your opinion, every review should give some idea of what the reader would experience in actually seeing the film…” Ebert’s philosophy (opposite his idol Pauline Kael) was to inform the reader not whether or not the film is good or bad, but whether or not it worked for him. Following this ideology while sitting with ten shit-faced twenty-year-olds watching The Room as plastic spoons reign down on you — you come to the conclusion that The Room — while not “good” — is one of the “best” movies of all time.
Of course, that can’t be true! The camera can’t even stay in focus! The acting is terrible and the story is pretentious! What’s more important than content? than technique? The answer goes back to one of the first publicly screened films, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, an uncut, 50-second film, documenting — as the title suggests — an everyday train stopping at a station. Nothing spectacular, but in 1895 the audience was astonished. It created a visceral, physical reaction. It was scary, awesome, and entertaining. Is it then a bad film? How can it be when the audience had that much emotion towards it? Shouldn’t that be what a film sets out to do? create emotions in its audience? If not, then why does a witless film like Furious 7 pull in $800 million dollars? Why did Fifty Shades of Grey pull in $550 million? It’s because these films cause reactions in their audiences: entertaining reactions, stimulating reactions. Does it matter if these emotions are from a mind-numbing spectacle or borderline fantasy porn? The audience (the box office) wouldn’t think so. These movies aren’t good; they’re stimulating, and aren’t the best films just that?
When The Room was first released, it prompted many viewers to ask for their money back, causing theaters to begin putting up signs reading “NO REFUNDS.” This is because film-goers had never seen anything like it (meaning they’ve never seen anything that bad). All masterpiece’s have their naysayers. For instance, the “it’s boring” backlash against Citizen Kane. Initial viewers didn’t like The Room because it was “bad,” and some viewers didn’t like Citizen Kane because it was “boring,” but just as Citizen Kane always makes it way on to the greatest films of all time lists, The Room found its way to an audience, and subsequently a culture.
Like Ebert, I’ll only speak for myself. Watching The Room was the greatest experience I’ve ever had in a cinema. I’ve never laughed harder. I’ve never been so engrossed. I’ve never had that much fun watching a movie. With an open mind, and a good atmosphere, The Room can be an entertaining, emotion filled experience — otherwise known as a good movie.